Dergrossest's Reviews > Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations

Holy War by Nigel Cliff
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really liked it

I love Vasco de Gama, and not just because of his OG name ("OG" means "original gangster" for anyone white and over 40). Just like the greatest Conquistadors, he risked everything on a trip into the unknown where death or glory were the only options. I have been to his tomb in Portugal and can assure you that he is still bathed in glory.

This book is the story of how he found that glory, rounding the deadly Cape of Good Hope and securing Portugal's foothold in India. This was no mean feat and the story of how Gama accomplished all this through sheer force of will is amazing. However, I must warn the Bernie Sanders crowd that Gama did not always play nice, was brutal when he had to be with any natives foolish enough to cross him and that he was a cultural/economic imperialist of the first order.

Where the book somewhat breaks down is in its attempt to cast Gama in the greater struggle between Christianity and Islam. While it is true that Portugal's smashing of the Venetian-Ottoman-Mameluke spice cartel inflicted serious injury upon the finances of Islam, it certainly was not the main reason for Christianity's ultimate ascendency. Indeed, Islam remained a real threat to Western Europe for at least another 100 years until it was crushed at Lepanto. Nor is it easy to believe that it was mainly piety, rather than profits, which caused the Portuguese to risk life and limb sailing the unrelentingly cruel seas.

Nevertheless, the story is fascinating and well written. And who knew the Portuguese were such bastards to everyone they colonized? Or that tiny Portugal's outsized excesses would quickly cause it to lose the great empire it had created against all odds. Until I read the excellent Roger Crowley's new book on the subject, this is the book to beat on the subject and I recommend it.
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Reading Progress

January 17, 2016 – Started Reading
January 17, 2016 – Shelved
February 24, 2016 – Finished Reading

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